Mark Manson, the author of the bestselling self-help book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (HarperOne), didn’t start out planning to become an advice guru—or to become a professional author for that matter. Manson began his career doing freelance web work and online marketing. But around 2007, he started blogging about dating, among other subjects, and that work led him to launch a men’s dating advice website. As the site began to attract a niche audience, he decided that the next step would be to write a book.
“I felt like I had something to say that needed to be heard and nobody else in the men’s dating world was saying it at the time,” Manson says. “That was it. At the time, I saw myself as an internet entrepreneur, so [working with] a traditional publisher never even crossed my mind.”
Manson first self-published the book Models: Attract Women Through Honesty on his blog. The topic, which Manson calls “super niche and a bit taboo,” drew an online cult readership. Through word of mouth and discussion forums, Manson’s fan base grew. “I kind of intuitively knew that because the book was saying something so radical for the industry at the time—you know, like, be honest to women and stuff—if it resonated with people, it would spread fairly quickly,” he says. After multiple revisions, the book is now available digitally and in print and has been the top-selling men’s dating book on Amazon for several years, selling more than 100,000 copies.
Manson assumed that he would self-publish his second book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, as well, but his robust online presence ended up attracting agents and editors. Though many authors would be over the moon about the attention, Manson says that he felt “pretty agnostic on the whole publishing vs. self-publishing thing.” He adds that he still considers himself an entrepreneur of sorts and not really a writer. But he is shrewd: “I viewed it, and still view it, as a business decision and will do whatever makes the most sense for each book and for my career as a whole.” And so he signed with the agent Mollie Glick, of Creative Artists Agency.
Following his self-publishing success story, Manson found himself in a highly advantageous position. “I had a huge platform with millions of readers,” he says. “I had an email list in the hundreds of thousands. I knew I could guarantee tens of thousands of sales, potentially even more. So self-publishing was never a bad option. I kept it in my back pocket and it gave me leverage when meeting with publishers. I told my agent that I was looking for a certain number for this to be worthwhile.”
Manson considers himself very fortunate to have met the right editor—Luke Dempsey—who “immediately got the book and cared about the message.” It made signing with HarperOne to publish The Subtle Art feel like the right path forward.
According to Manson, much of the book’s appeal has to do with the way that it takes the self-help category in a new and fresh direction. “A lot of its advice is counterintuitive or about stuff that a lot of people haven’t considered before,” he says. Knowing his intended readership very well, Manson went full force in giving them material that he felt was lacking in the world of self-help. “In my book proposal, I noted that every generation has a self-help book that kind of comes to define it, as it reflects the traits and preferences of that particular generation,” he says. “I felt that no self-help book had been written for millennials yet, so my ultimate goal was to write it.”
Manson is working on another book that deals with relationships. For now, he’s sticking with HarperOne, but he has some salient advice for aspiring authors contemplating the self-publishing route: “Self-publishing provides more freedom and control, but it also provides more risk. Publishing provides more credibility and promotion, but your vision can also get lost in the bureaucratic machinery of the business. It’s a tough decision to make. And the answer is going to be different depending on the book, the market, and the author’s goals.”